Dated “Dating”

SATURDAY, JULY 14, 2012

I read about some priest who went to do some missionary work in India and when he stepped off the plane and got sight and smell of the unwashed masses his first reaction was to turn around and leave. His calling was strong enough that he didn’t, though; he stayed, and for quite a while, it seems: the rest of his life.

That sounds incredibly anecdotal but one wonders, (as one is wont to do) how it is that all those unwashed masses were at the airport when the priest landed, or maybe that was just a contraction of the time between landing and the seeing/smelling, still it seems a little contrived. Not that, to a cultured nose, the personal hygiene of another culture can’t strike one as, well, un-cultured.

Still, it made me think. Can you imagine what primitive people must have smelled like? No soap to wash with, no perfumes even to mask odors, no toothpaste or mouthwash (‘no toilet paper, even,’ he said in a whisper), no hair gel? Can you imagine? (“Hey, can you do my back for me?”)

I watched a program on the Discovery channel about the real oldest humanoid identified so far, who lived over three million years ago. They named her “Ardi,” and she’s even older than “Lucy.” They reconstructed the critter, and in that way they do now they mounted several scenes of life as it might have been among those people.

In one part of the drama, Ardi and a male from her clan mated. Some time after mating, which they didn’t actually show (drat), Ardi went off to be by herself in order to give birth (she climbed a tree to do so in fact! probably for safety reasons.) After she delivered she came down and her mate went over to her and was in awe of the little critter she was holding to her breast. He reached out, gently, as if to caress or even just to touch this marvel, and mommy kind of pulled back a little — it was just a protective move — but she relented and daddy had a chance to touch his offspring. Then they went their separate ways, although they were still part of the same clan.

Which kind of brings me back to my original thought about the smell of humans then. Animals often mate as a result of smells given off; present-day humans have scents associated with sexual arousal. I’m trying to imagine how, with no after-shave, no “Tabu” or “Canoe” — remember that? — their mating might have been affected. Or was it always just the anecdotal club to the head and “Let’s have some fun! But I probably will not call you in the morning.”

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